“Poetics” refers to the practice and philosophy of poetry and its history. Poetics, broadly conceived, includes poetry, oratory, elocution, art, narrative, music, and performative visual and verbal power. As Aristotle avowed, poetics involves rhetoric, aesthetics, and ethics. A poetics is, implicitly or not, a politics; it functions strategically and socially. A theory of poetics, at core, involves presentation and representation (Halliwell 1998). Both formalist and formally innovative poetics evoke the human, natural, and supernatural world. In African American studies specifically, poetry and poetics have described and decried the inhumane conditions of chattel slavery.

The origin story of poetics in African American literary history includes slavery; it also exceeds it. Human bondage is the silt, though not the sum, of many African Americans’ lived experience historically. As Langston Hughes noted in his survey of more than “200 Years of American Negro Poetry,” “poets and versifiers of African descent have been publishing …

This essay may be found on page 147 of the printed volume.

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